In my last blog, I men­tioned Devo­tion­al Clas­sics, a Ren­o­varé resource, and encour­aged read­ers to mine the book for the rich­es it con­tains. In the first sen­tence of the book, Richard Fos­ter and James Bryan Smith write this: We today suf­fer from the unex­am­ined notion that the more recent some­thing is, the bet­ter, the more true it must be. This book is our attempt to counter this present-day myopia.”

I can see Tom Oden smil­ing and nod­ding his head in agree­ment with Richard and Jim. For, as we have seen in my series of blogs on Tom’s think­ing and life, Tom was firm­ly con­vinced that if we only read mod­ern books, our under­stand­ing of God, human life, and God’s pur­pos­es in his­to­ry will be small, mal­nour­ished, and, indeed, myopic. 

It is time to say good-bye to Tom — if only for a time — and turn to the authors, books, and ideas that have nour­ished Chris­tians for thou­sands of years, as they did Tom. Devo­tion­al Clas­sics will be one of the resources I will draw on as I blog, and if you’re unfa­mil­iar with this book, I encour­age you to add it to your library. Richard and Jim have wise­ly cho­sen fifty-two selec­tions and grouped them under the six streams that Richard dis­cuss­es in detail in his book Streams of Liv­ing Water: Cel­e­brat­ing the Great Tra­di­tions of Chris­t­ian Faith, pub­lished by Harper­San­Fran­cis­co in 1998

After ini­tial read­ings in an intro­duc­to­ry sec­tion titled Prepar­ing for the Spir­i­tu­al Life,” Devo­tion­al Clas­sics con­tains six sec­tions of read­ings grouped under the six streams or tra­di­tions Richard dis­cuss­es in Streams of Liv­ing Water: The Con­tem­pla­tive Tra­di­tion, The Holi­ness Tra­di­tion, The Charis­mat­ic Tra­di­tion, The Social Tra­di­tion, The Evan­gel­i­cal Tra­di­tion, and The Incar­na­tion­al Tra­di­tion. We will swim in these streams in com­ing blogs. 

Why read old books? C.S. Lewis presents a help­ful per­spec­tive in answer­ing this ques­tion. First, Lewis is deter­mined to debunk the idea that old books are by def­i­n­i­tion bor­ing, dense and irrel­e­vant to mod­ern con­cerns. The great thinkers and writ­ers remain in print, Lewis argues, pre­cise­ly because they are much more acces­si­ble and inter­est­ing than the mound of sec­ondary lit­er­a­ture most stu­dents rely on to learn of them. Lewis does not scold his stu­dents for turn­ing to sec­ondary lit­er­a­ture, know­ing they are often intim­i­dat­ed by the great thinkers. 

The stu­dent is half afraid to meet one of the great philoso­phers face to face. He feels him­self inad­e­quate and thinks he will not under­stand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his great­ness, is much more intel­li­gi­ble than his mod­ern com­men­ta­tor … It has always there­fore been one of my main endeav­ours as a teacher to per­suade the young that first-hand knowl­edge is not only more worth acquir­ing than sec­ond-hand knowl­edge, but is usu­al­ly much eas­i­er and more delight­ful to acquire.” 

Sec­ond, pre­cise­ly because mod­ern Chris­t­ian writ­ers and read­ers inhab­it the con­tem­po­rary world, they will see clear­ly on cer­tain issues but much less so on oth­ers. If, for exam­ple, I have always lived in a sex­u­al­ly over­heat­ed soci­ety, one in which sex­u­al insan­i­ty is viewed as nor­mal and healthy, might I not need to step out­side that soci­ety and time to gain new insights, under­stand­ings, and wisdom? 

Or, if I have grown up in a mate­ri­al­is­tic, self-indul­gent cul­ture, I might well fail to see how mate­r­i­al self-indul­gence can blind me to Christ’s call to self-sac­ri­fice and self-denial. Read­ing Chris­t­ian authors who lived in oth­er times and locales helps to pro­vide a buffer against the self-delu­sions and blind­ness any cul­ture gen­er­ates with­in its inhab­i­tants toward cer­tain aspects of the gospel. 

It is pos­si­ble, indeed prob­a­ble, that there are ele­ments of the gospel or aspects of human sin and error I can iden­ti­fy and under­stand clear­ly only by step­ping out­side my his­tor­i­cal, cul­tur­al, polit­i­cal, or lin­guis­tic envi­ron­ment. In the words of Lewis, Every age has its own out­look. It is spe­cial­ly good at see­ing cer­tain truths and spe­cial­ly liable to make cer­tain mis­takes. We all, there­fore, need the books that will cor­rect the char­ac­ter­is­tic mis­takes of our own peri­od. And that means the old books.”

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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